Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel honored indeed to have the opportunity to address you and offer my own personal views on issues that have to do with security and cooperation in the region. Now the topic the organizers of the conference assigned to me is “The new geopolitical environment in the Easter Mediterranean”. My first reaction was to prepare for you a succinct summary of the rich literature on the subject. I have done so but opted against this alternative because the literature, rich as it is, does not – to my mind – provide a safe guide as to the action for the future. And it couldn’t be otherwise because the situation in the region is nebulous, misty, and fluid and one cannot work out a long term strategy on the basis of the current uncertainty. I have opted therefore instead to offer you my own personal insight, derived by my own experience in dealing with the region and, particularly, in Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and Syria.
The fact that there is uncertainty in the region, raises a fundamental question. Can we nowadays establish a long term strategy for the region that includes elements of cooperation and security? To work out a strategy in the long run, you have to have a relatively stable environment, a world order and some parameters, the value of which do not change over time. Certainly, these conditions do not exist today and the conclusion, therefore, is that, under those conditions, it is not possible to work out a long term strategy for security and cooperation in the region.
This is true, if we consider only the established methodology of building a long term strategy. But there is another and equally satisfactory way of dealing with the issue, namely to reverse the order of reasoning and start from the end point rather than from the beginning. Instead of starting from the present day situation and work out the various scenarios and possibilities, we can reverse the order and start from a long term vision of peace, security and cooperation in the region. And starting from this vision of shared views and cooperation and comparing that vision to the present day situation, we may chart out a course of action to move from where we are today to where we want to go. This is not followed in the University research. I understand why governments cannot do that, governments deal primarily with tactics and present day issues. But, in the university community, I think that this way of looking at things has to be a subject of research. I want to encourage therefore, the university community to adopt this approach. It is very important to have a vision and cultivate a shared view about a different future that we are facing today.
I feel that this remark may shock you and you may wonder whether wouldn’t be a waste of time for someone to work out a long term vision when the present day situation is characterized by tensions, instability and deadlocks. I do not think so. I believe that if you do not have views about the long term goals, you do not have a guide about today’ s policies. Consider that if 50 years ago, someone argued that it would be possible for Germany, France and other countries, to get together and form the European Union, he would be considered utopian. But, that utopian vision was our guide and the European Union is a reality today. So, I believe that for Eastern Mediterranean we should by-pass the present day deadlocks and place on the agenda the long term vision of what that region could and should be in the future.
And that brings me to the fundamental question. Why is it that in the Eastern Mediterranean – when I talk about Eastern Mediterranean, I do not separate it from the Middle East – why is it that we have always wars, strives and conflicts? The usual answer to this question is that it is a multicultural, multi-religious region and that it is difficult for people of different origins to coexist. To be sure, in all parts of the world, when people of different origins coexisted, difficulties did arise but over a long period of time the multicultural societies found ways that ensured peaceful coexistence and social cohesion. Why this practice failed to prevail in Eastern Mediterranean? My own view is that is the factor of foreign intervention that largely accounts for this outcome.
Unfortunately, this region is at the crossroads of three continents and is, geopolitically very important and rich in natural resources. So, there has been competition among the global players for influence in the area. There are two ways actually to secure influence the first is to invade and occupy the area, which is not possible for foreign powers to do so. The other way is to adopt the traditional dogma of divide and rule. And this is what has happened in the Eastern Mediterranean. The instability, the conflicts are primarily the outcome of competition among the major global powers. As long as this exist there is going to be no security and no cooperation in the area.
Bypassing the history of strives and conflicts in time, let me make a brief remark on the situation after WWII. “Peace” was established under the hegemony of the USA with the UK playing supporting role, sometimes even guiding the US policies. The Arab World, the dominant element of the area, has been divided, with strives among themselves and other countries. The basis of the American influence in the area were three nations: Israel, Turkey and Iran. In the process, Iran fell, the Shah left and the new regime followed an anti-american policy. Recently, Turkey with the new Ottoman policy of Davutoglu is distancing itself from the USA and is trying to play hegemonic role in the Eastern Mediterranean. Israel, feeling now isolated, is searching for new alliances. So, in the new environment, we have more elements of instability and more threats because if Iran goes ahead with its plan to become a nuclear power, certainly, this example will be followed by other countries. Turkey or Saudi Arabia will not be indifferent to that development and certainly Israel will react. So, we may have a threat of actual war in the Middle East. Furthermore, Turkey’s hegemonic plans will certainly create problems and frictions. In short, the dynamics of the area lead to higher risk, more instability and even threat of war.
On the other hand, the external players have become more numerous. In the past we essentially had the US as a dominant power but now new players are coming in the region. Russia is certainly interested in the developments in the area and the recent visit of the President of the Russian Republic in Cyprus, indicated the increased interest of Russia in the region. France has shown an interest in the economic and security developments in the region and the European Union, which has not formed foreign policy as such, slowly will come to the point of becoming involved in Eastern Mediterranean developments. After all, Greece and Cyprus, members of the E.U., are forming the frontiers of the E.U. with Eastern Mediterranean and, slowly but surely, the E.U. will become a major player. And, in this respect, both Greece and Cyprus, can and should play a role in promoting stability and cooperation in the area.
Now, if you put all these parameters together, the internal instability and the plethora of foreign players in the area, you will come up with all sorts of scenarios. And all scenarios are possible, in fact even probable. And, it is useless in my view to play around with academic discussions on what might happen. Instead, we have to go back to a normative approach and see what we can do to promote movements that we lead us to a long term vision of peace, security and cooperation in the area. And it is the responsibility of the Greek Cypriots and of the regional intelligentia to work out a blueprint of regional cooperation and regional governance, in the context of peace, democracy, cooperation and coexistence of different cultures. I think that it will be a great help and a contribution to the climate of security if the agenda of discussions included long term blueprints.
We should not underestimate the importance of ideas to shape present policies. There is nothing stronger than an idea whose time has come. And the time has come to move from the short term analysis of the problems and the conflicts, to the great possibilities in the future.
We do have actually the opportunity now to explore the possibilities of developing joint economic development projects dealing with water resources and infrastructure and natural resources are even greater. The fact that, in the eastern Mediterranean area, in the sea, we have energy resources – petroleum and gaz – should be a basis, not for increased competition among the nations in the area, but for cooperation and joint ventures and joint activities. We should not let foreign powers and multinational companies to enter the area in a competitive spirit. They should enter the area in a cooperative spirit, on the basis of a plan that the countries of the area could work out. I cannot see why, the exploitation of resources in the exclusive economic zones in Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Syria and Greece and so on, could not really become a basis for joined projects and joined ventures. Do not forget that the vision of a United Europe, started with regional economic cooperation, concerning steel and coal. As economic cooperation enlarged, economic institutions for the region developed and opened the field for regional political institutions and political union. So I do not see why we cannot start with joined economic development projects in the area with emphasis on energy and exploitation of sea belt resources and move from there forward to regional integration.
Naturally, this cannot be done unless at least two basic issues are resolved. The first is the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the second is the Cyprus issue. We must find a solution to the Palestinian issue that will be based on principles and ideas which will give security to all people, will be fair, will promote the political and economic cooperation among Israel and Arab nations. The principle of creating a Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel on the basis of those principles would be a good indication that in the future a peaceful cooperation in the region will prevail. The second issue is that of Cyprus where the question is one of illegal invasion and occupation by Turkey in Cyprus. We cannot accept this situation any longer. We cannot tolerate a situation where a country, a democracy which is a full member of the E.U., is not recognized by another player in the region, Turkey.
I want to say that I am not among those who think there is a positive prospect of Turkey becoming a full member of the E.U. Turkey cannot become a member of the E.U. with the hegemonic, neo-Ottoman attitude it has shown so far. But, I think that there should be a pressure by the E.U. countries on Turkey to change its behavior vis a vis two member countries of the E.U., Greece and Turkey. We will have something more to say about that later on, in the course of the discussion, but let me say a few things about the role of Hellenism in the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. I use purposely the term Hellenism to remind you that Hellenism is not a foreigner in the region, it is part of the Eastern Mediterranean civilization and I think it is and should become an important player and a contributor to the long term vision for a peaceful governance of Eastern Mediterranean. Years ago, when I was Minister of Defense of Greece, in cooperation with the Cyprus Republic, we established the “Dogma of the United Defense Area: Thrace – Aegean – Cyprus”, and we have made significant moves in promoting this Dogma, which was not simply a military Dogma. Certainly it was a defense Dogma, but it was also a Dogma of cooperation and presence of Hellenism in Eastern Mediterranean. In that context, we played a role and we developed cooperation, including the defense area, with Israel, Syria and Egypt and we proved, at that time, that, with good will the political presence of a country that has traditional ties with the area can play catalytic role to peace. I remember that eyebrows were raised in the area and in my own country when I visited Israel – and I was the first Minister of Defense of Greece to visit Israel – I had a long talk with the late President Rabin who was also Minister of Defense at that time, and we concluded a Join Defense Agreement. That was back in 1995 and people were telling me that “if you do that, if you open security discussions with Israel, what will happen with our traditional friends, the Arab nations. My trip to Israel was followed by a trip to Syria where I met Hafez Al – Assad and we also concluded a Join Defense Agreement and there was actually in the making a mediation role for Greece between Israel and Syria relating the Golan Heights. These trips were followed by another trip to Egypt and the signing of a defense cooperation agreement. This experience indicates that if you do not play a competitive, dividing role but a unifying one, you could actually get countries together to talk.
For a number of reasons I do not want to discuss now, the Dogma of the United Defense Area was not further advanced. But, now, this concept should be revived and Greece and Cyprus being the Eastern frontiers of the E.U. should take initiatives to play a unifying role in the area.
Ending this intervention, I want to say this: I purposely avoided a lengthy analysis of the current situation which leads us to pessimistic views. I urge you to think of the longer prospects which are good prospects, we could have a vision and we could work together for a regional governance, starting now with economic cooperation and joint projects, solving the two major issues that block progress. We should raise our eyes above the current conflicts and convince our people that in a multi-cultural, multi-religious area we can actually develop a regional governance, a system that will give us peace, security and cooperation. If the Europeans managed to do that I cannot see why the Eastern Mediterraneans cannot do it. After all the European civilization, through the Greek civilization, is nothing else than the continuation of the Eastern Mediterranean civilization. This high road should be taken primarily by the intelligentia and the universities in the area to raise the expectations and even influence the politicians to move towards a different direction.